If you have traveled on an airplane you’ve heard the flight attendant give instructions to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This is advice that we can translate into our everyday lives. Often, in our society, especially as caregivers, we tend to overlook our own needs to assist others first. But we have to remember that we need to show ourselves as much care as we show others. Self-care is an important aspect to begin to incorporate into your daily life.

Many of us have heard the term self-care used in conversation or in the media, but what does that term really mean? Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s’ own wellbeing and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. Admittedly this is difficult to do when working, taking care of children, running a household, etc. However implementing and practicing self-care is very important because it decreases the likelihood of compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue

What is compassion fatigue? Compassion Fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional and physical pain. (Figley, 1982) It is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers. Compassion fatigue is much more than just being tired. Listed below are some indicators that you may be experiencing compassion fatigue:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Using alcohol, food, or other substances to combat stress and comfort yourself
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Feeling numb and distanced from life
  • Feeling less satisfied by work
  • Moodiness, irritability
  • Physical complaints—headaches, stomachaches


To better arm ourselves against compassion fatigue in is important to engage in self-care. Self-care is very important but can also be very simple. There tends to be a misconception in society that self-care has to be extravagant or costly, and that simply is not true. Self-care can be something as simple as taking 10 minutes out of your day to sit outside and drink a cup of coffee alone. Self-care can be anything that assists you to get through your day. Self-care is not a one size fits all. Each individual needs to find what replenishes them. Listed below are some basic suggestions on how to promote your own self-care.

Self-care basics:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat well.
  • Be physically active.
  • Use alcohol in moderation, or not at all.
  • Take regular breaks from stressful activities.
  • Laugh every day.
  • Express yourself.
  • Let someone else take care of you.

It is very easy and common to put others’ needs before your own; but remember in doing so you may limit your ability to effectively care for those same individuals. Begin to explore what self-care strategies work for you and try to regularly incorporate them into your life. Remember to help others you must first put on your own oxygen mask.


Figley, C.R. (Ed.). (1995) Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

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